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How Munich rejected Steve Ballmer and kicked Microsoft out of the city

Breaking up with Microsoft is hard to do. Just ask Peter Hofmann, the man leading the City of Munich‘s project to ditch Windows and Office in favour of open source alternatives.

The project took close to a decade to complete, has seen the city wrestle with legal uncertainties and earned Munich a visit from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, whose pleas to the mayor of Germany’s third largest city not to switch fell on deaf ears.

Munich says the move to open source has saved it more than €10m, a claim contested by Microsoft, yet Hofmann says the point of making the switch was never about money, but about freedom.

“If you’re staying with Microsoft you’re getting more and more overwhelmed to update and change your whole IT infrastructure.”
– Peter Hofmann

“If you are only doing a migration because you think it saves you money there’s always somebody who tells you afterwards that you didn’t calculate it properly,” he said.

“That was the experience of a lot of open source-based projects that have failed,” Hofmann noted. They were only cost-driven and when the organisation got more money or somebody else said ‘The costs are wrong’ then the main reason for doing it had broken away. That was never the main goal within the City of Munich. Our main goal was to become independent.”

Munich is used to forging its own path. The city runs its own schools and is one of the few socialist, rather than conservative governments, in Bavaria.

Becoming independent meant Munich freeing itself from closed, proprietary software, more specifically the Microsoft Windows NT operating system and the Microsoft Office suite, and a host of other locked-down technologies the city relied on in 2002.

The decision to ditch Microsoft was also born of necessity. In 2002 the council knew official support for Windows NT, the OS used on 14,000 staff machines at the council, would soon run out. The council ordered a study of the merits of switching to XP and Office versus a GNU/Linux OS, OpenOffice and other free software.

As well as being tied to Windows upgrades, Munich faced becoming more tightly locked into the Microsoft ecosystem with each passing year, Hofmann said.

“Windows has developed from a pure PC-centred operating system, like Windows 3.11 was, to a whole infrastructure. If you’re staying with Microsoft you’re getting more and more overwhelmed to update and change your whole IT infrastructure [to fit with Microsoft],” according to Hofmann, whether that be introducing a Microsoft Active Directory system or running a key management server.

Free software was ruled the better choice by Munich’s ruling body, principally because it would free the council from dependence on any one vendor and future-proof the council’s technology stack via open protocols, interfaces and data formats.

The prospect of such a high profile loss, and other organisations following Munich’s lead, spurred Microsoft to mount a last ditch campaign to win the authority back. A senior sales executive at the time told general managers in EMEA “under NO circumstances lose against Linux.” Steve Ballmer himself took time out of a skiing holiday to make a revised offer in March 2003, followed two months later by Microsoft knocking millions of Euros off the price of sticking with Windows and Office.

The lobbying failed to change Munich’s mind, and in June 2004 the council gave the go-ahead to begin the migration from NT and Office 97/2000 to a Linux-based OS, a custom-version of OpenOffice, as well as a variety of free software, such as the Mozilla Firefox browser, Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client and the Gimp photo editing software. It became known as the LiMux project, after the name for the custom Linux OS the council was rolling out.

Read the full article here.

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